Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review: Zot:! The Complete Black and White Collection by Scott McCloud

Zot! is a comic created by Scott McCloud, who is better known for having written and drawn Understanding Comics, a comprehensive work on the creation of comics. I found Zot! The Complete Black and White Collection at my my library after not finding a book I was looking for. I seem to have this allergy that prevents me from leaving the library empty-handed. So, I chose Zot!

Zot! is a series that combines the superhero elements of classic comic books with the newer genre of real-life, relationship based graphic novels. I suppose if you were to ask me the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel, that would be it, although that's not necessarily always the case. The definition of a graphic novel and a comic book is highly debated, and this review isn't where I would necessarily lay my lines down about that.

Anyway, I digress.

Zot! tells the story of a blonde-haired superboy named Zot who comes from an alternate earth, and his relationship with Jenny Weaver, a teenage girl from our own earth. The first half of hte collection is comprised of the 'superhero' stories in the series. Zot (real name Zachary Paleozogt) battles a host of villains who are all in some form or another caricatures of the villains McCloud grew up on.

The second half of the collection deals with more introspective, personal stories. McCloud deviates from the classic superhero format by literally exiling Zot in Jenny's (i.e. our) earth and moving the focus away from him. Entire issues of Zot! are devoted to characters that were introduced as minor players in previous issues, such as Ronnie, a comic book obsessed school friend, or Terry, Jenny's best friend who comes out in an issue.

Zot! was published in comic form from 1984 to 1991, and the stories that McCloud introduces, if you look at the time he was writing and drawing them in, are ground breaking. My favourite story has to be Jenny and Zot's first time. The story is left open to allow the reader to decide for themselves if anything actually happens.

What I liked most about the collection was McCloud's commentary. He provides insight into his drawing habits and his personal thoughts about each story. You can really tell he's an incredible perfectionist and it pains him in some ways to publish this collection, warts included. Personally, I didn't think there were any warts, but I'm not an artist, let alone a graphic novel artist. I liked knowing what he thinks of his own stories.

The stories themselves were fun to read. While not terribly complicated by any standards (McCloud admits that he had little knowledge of how to write a story when he first started drawing Zot!), they're interesting and humourous, as well as touching. I could understand Jenny's (I want to say motivation here, but it's not a play...c'mon Olga, work that vocabulary!) desire to flee her world and live in Zot's, where everything is just better. We've all been there before, and we don't have to be fifteen to feel like that.

The characters also made Zot! a good read. Each one, be it a villain or a friend, has a story and they're all interesting. I could go on and on. Seriously, if you happen to stumble upon this collection at the library, I suggest you take it out. It's not McCloud's best work, but it's a really great read nonetheless.

Rating: Four Stars

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